It’s official: The residential floor coverings market is in a bit of slump. There is no denying that. But there is also no denying that flooring retailers who understand how to pick up contract work are the ones who best navigate this rocky terrain. Last month, NFT debuted a new column, “Commercial Possibilities,” that addresses this issue. This month, we build on that premise and encourage you to combine two key elements that are (hopefully) fundamental to your business: what you know and who you know.
In essence, I propose that the following equation will help you expand your business reach: PROFESSIONALISM + CUSTOMER-BASED REFERRALS = CONTRACT. It seems like a math formula, but in reality it’s more a formula for success. More important, this is not rocket science. You already have the data base in your hands. Every residential sale you’ve made can be conducive to a commercial job. Your sales staff should be using this slow period to reach out to your customer base. Remind them (and by ‘them” I mean your customers AND your sales staff) that your company sells and installs flooring for business as well as homes. Offer incentives to customers who make successful referrals. (Be creative: perhaps a free carpet cleaning certificate or maybe a discount on a future flooring purchase.) Many of your former customers own their own businesses and this is a ready-made market just waiting to be tapped. You’ve already demonstrated your company’s professionalism in how you handled their residential installation, remember? With that credibility established, you simply have to let them know you are interested in doing their offices too.
Be realistic in what you go after, however. You don’t need to land a twenty-story high-rise building or anything else that demands a highly specialized installation. But small to medium-sized commercial installations are certainly within your grasp. These are the jobs where you can shine. If you haven’t updated your commercial inventory, that would be a good first step. Both Shaw and Mohawk have excellent commercial divisions. You are most likely already a customer of one or both of these fine mills, so ask to see their commercial territory manager and start building your library of architect folders. You can’t sell what you don’t have.
Jim Stimmler, owner of Mooney Carpets in Anaheim, Calif, recently explained to me: “Of course residential [business] is off for everybody. Even the big hitters are selling in one month what they used to sell in a day.” Jim has been at the helm of Mooney Carpets for 28 years and has seen his share of recessive cycles come along. When they do, his company uses its residential base to go after commercial referrals that can help Mooney work through the tough times. “You have to do your homework,” he explains. “We just completed a $90,000 installation for the Quantum Company in Irvine. But I had to learn about ESD carpet tiles [manufactured by Static-Tuft Mills out of Boston] because that is what the architect for the job had specified. The customer required a carpet tile with a carbon backing, installed with specialized adhesives that deterred static build-up.”
Not only did Mooney Carpets successfully provide the carpet for the installation, the sale expanded to include VCT tile as well. Contract jobs have a wonderful way of getting fatter as the work proceeds. Often, as I mentioned, you may end up handling a big commercial project that all started with a modest residential job. Ask Jim. The Quantum job started as a referral right out of Mooney’s residential data base! He calculates that this formula has helped push business up by more than 20% over last year-and last year, you’ll remember, business conditions were supposedly better than now.
Although the commercial job Mooney Carpet’s landed was already specified by an architect, clients will often look to you for job specifications. For that, you will need to know something about color trends and design influences. To help build your comfort level as you enter the contract arena, I’ve stitched together some of the more important color and design trends identified in our most recent conference of Color Marketing Group International.
One dominant trend we talked about is Globalism. It’s here to stay. The planet is shrinking (and judging from the volume of cars crammed onto our California freeways, I have to agree). As a result, the bandwidth of foreign influences is steadily increasing. High on the trend curve are influences arriving here from China and India. Think about this: The sum of goods and services created around the globe is said to have jumped by nearly 5% last year. During that same time, the United States, Europe and Japan saw less than 3% growth. China and India, meanwhile, each saw growth in excess of 7% each. This goes a long way toward explaining the strong influence these two countries are having on color and design. Influences arriving from India include the hues of spices, woods, jewels, natural dyes, and saris. These color inspirations translate well to the contract palette. A bit bolder are China’s contributions which are apparent in heritage colors that include gold, yellow, red, celadon green, blue, white and bronze.
From China also comes the art of blending interior and exterior design elements. Offices frequently include atriums and courtyards to carry the ambience of nature into the commercial setting. So try this: When selecting floor covering for an office, play off the botanicals and flowering plants chosen for nearby exterior spaces. These colors will bring harmony and continuity from the outside in.
Within a commercial setting, there is also a trend toward cleaner colors. This means bright and bold colors used in public spaces to achieve a desired effect. The latest color directives from CMG’s are right on target in filling the prescription for bold and bright. Keep in mind that contract jobs need to be ahead of the curve on the design charts and that’s exactly why professional color forecasting groups like CMG set the color stage so far in advance (and why CMG has already issued their marching orders for 2009).
In wood finishes the trend is moving toward translucent stains and natural hardwood veneers in the contract market. This parallels the design principle of bringing nature’s influences into interiors and adds a level of continuity. Look for hardwood flooring manufacturers to present some astounding new introductions over the next year-inclusive of the natural look for contract referenced above. Also on the horizon are high-contrast “color injected” woods for more contemporary designs. These will take your breath away.
Obvious there is a lot to think about but to sum it all up, think of the contract market as your own personal frontier. You’ve taken the time to learn about it (including reading this column) and you obviously have an interest and want to find out more. That alone is evidence that you are serious about improving your business. Now you are armed (though hopefully not too dangerous) with some practical insights as to how to make your entrance into Main Street Commercial, and, more important, how to do it in style.
Tip: Instead of pink and blue, try ‘Silt’ and ‘Cameo’
Design decisions in the world of commercial flooring can be markedly different than the options you have grown comfortable with. If your professional domain has been strictly residential, you will do well to acquaint yourself with the latest trends on Main Street. Here then, in no particular order, are some of the color frontrunners that are emerging. You can feel comfortable suggesting these to your contract customers:
ODYSSEY – A brown-influenced green that has a chameleon quality to it. Look for this deep hue to change with the lighting.
RAW SILK – A soft neutral flavored with hints of gray-green brings to life China influences.
SILT – A green-based brown; picture the rich deep earth of a sunless forest floor.
LUCIDITY – A translucent, medium green with soft gray undertones.
CHINCHILLA – Picture bronze deepened to an aged patina and that would be the essence of this new color.
MEDITERRANEAN – A successful carry-over color from the 2007-2008 predictions. This deep azure blue will be a useful accent color for contract interiors.
CAMEO – A huge color surprise on the contract side of things. It’s a more feminine color compared to the rest of the palette, but this brown-influenced pink is restful, calming and speaks of good health and wellbeing.
AMETHYST – Purples are making a come-back, and this hue is deep but not overpowering. This is another likely accent color for contract interiors.
CARAMELA – Like rich, sweet, gooey caramel, this color has a flavor all its own. This is a successful mix of brown and orange that creates a tasteful mid-toned neutral perfect for floor coverings.
OPULENCE – A color designed for royalty, this mix of red, brown and a hint of amethyst produces a color steeped in richness. This is a great accent color that works especially well with the newly introduced colors Raw Silk and Lucidity.